World Cup 2014: Any chance of a sense of perspective on events in Brazil?

I mean – Luis Suarez isn’t really worse than al-Qa’ida, is he?
  • @mrmarksteel

One of the joys of a World Cup is it’s a lesson in keeping matters in perspective. For example, newspapers scream, “Today, inside your 16-page World Cup Pull-Out, a 64-Page Pull-Out on Luis Suarez! That’s two pages for each of his teeth!” The phone-ins are full of callers screaming, “There should be a rule that if you bite someone, the referee can set fire to you. They already carry a can of that foam for marking free kicks, so they could carry another one full of butane gas. One nibble and vroom, burned to a cinder.”

It’s almost certain that by the weekend Tony Blair will go on television to say “it’s essential that we carry out air strikes immediately for our own safety. If we don’t destroy him and every one of his supporters, we face the very real prospect of Al-Qa’ida taking over East Anglia and biting the whole of Norwich.”

There will be a statement from Isis warriors saying, “While we fully endorse the crushing of our enemies with an avalanche of mighty and holy unimaginable terror, we condemn as beyond all decency the awful behaviour of Mr Suarez in Uruguay’s final match in Group D.”

There’s already a campaign with a petition being circulated, demanding Suarez is banned for life, so maybe there’ll be a march, with demonstrators chanting “Stand up strong and fight like lions, no more bites from Uruguyans!” News channels may decide to copy sport programmes to increase interest in current affairs. So Newsnight will be presented by Gary Lineker, saying “First up we’ve got the eagerly awaited contest between the Syrian government and a team of rebels. Fascinating battle this, then later on we’ll be bringing you highlights of the crucial clash from Group C between Russia and the struggling but improving Ukraine”.

The people excusing Suarez are equally rational. Many Liverpool fans have expressed delight, because the incident makes it less likely he’ll be bought by a Spanish club so he’ll be free to bite people for them in the Premier League. He could have released a leopard that ate the entire Italian midfield, and some Liverpool fans would insist that “this proves he’s got a competitive edge”.

The Uruguyan president Jose Mujica defended Suarez by saying, “We didn’t pick him for his good manners,” as if the criticism him is snobbery because etiquette demands using the correct knife and fork for eating an Italian bloke’s shoulder.

A similarly healthy sense of perspective has been displayed by pundits and writers lamenting England’s performance. There are more callers to phone-ins, calmly making points such as, “I’m SICK of it Robbie, I’ve got mates who’ve SAWN OFF THEIR OWN HEADS because of how we defended at set-pieces Robbie, and to think it’s the 60th anniversary of D-Day. If our grandparents had known one day Glen Johnson would be out-jumped by Balotelli like that, they’d never have bothered.”

It’s said regularly now that England were “too naive”. Chris Waddle complained that English players don’t roll on the ground as much as other players, to convince the referee they’ve been fouled. One manager insisted England needed to learn how to get opponents sent off, by collapsing more easily by players already on a yellow card.

So instead of learning how to pass and trap a ball and cobblers like that, we need to teach kids how to roll further, maybe giving out prizes if one of them rolls right off the pitch and across the road into a branch of WH Smiths. If you were old-fashioned, you might suggest a change in the rules to stop this behaviour, so that when a player feigns injury, the other team should be allowed to inflict the amount of pain that was feigned. For example, if a striker crumples to the floor clutching his face and screaming because a defender passed nearby, the defender should then be allowed to hold the forward face down in a hive of wasps for a fortnight, or bring on a sniper as a substitute.

This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t care, because perspective with sport is an art. It has to be seen as critically important, worth staying up all night for and causing spectators to tremble and fight for breath and scream and ask themselves questions like, “Would I sacrifice a finger for a goal?” and not know the answer.

That’s why one of the disturbing aspects of this tournament is the way the cameras zoom in on a group of fans, who then stand cheering, smiling and waving when they see themselves on the screen. Even the Spanish fans did this, though they needed two goals in 10 minutes to avoid being knocked out.

This is a dreadful trend, implying that the occasion is a festival and the result doesn’t matter. Those Spaniards should have been in a stupor of devastation, staring blankly and not even noticing their image 50 feet high going out to a billion people, so they should be banned from stadiums for life.

For England supporters it should be easier to get this balance right, because unlike the Spanish, there’s been nothing disappointing about the English performance. Only when the nation has truly accepted the joy of where it now stands as a football power, which is that Costa Rica can relax and rest their players because they’re only playing the minnows from England, will the English be able to enjoy the World Cup properly.